ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Licensed childcare providers are warning parents, following our exclusive Fox Files report Thursday.
We revealed tragic failures at the St. Louis County summer camp where 6-year-old TJ Mister drowned in July.
Even though an internal audit on the Kennedy Rec Center said it was short a lifeguard and missing pieces to life-saving equipment, state regulators can take no action. That’s because the Missouri legislature says if you call yourself a “summer camp” you don’t need a daycare license.
Lisa Coulter told us, “I would never go to a non-licensed facility. There’s too much at stake.”
Coulter knows the significance, because she runs a childcare center – Apple of Your Eye Learning Center on Tesson Ferry.
Coulter added, “We have to go through so much to keep this building up and running and running every single day by state licensing rules, and it’s terrible that there are places that don’t have to be.”
They are always going through safety checks, like continuing background checks and regular inspections, to make sure they have enough employees and that they’re properly trained.
Elizabeth Ghiassi, who owns the facility, added, “Ours probably takes about $2,000 a month just to maintain, to keep everything going, the proper equipment [for] everything we need to put into it.”
Ghiassi says parents may never know the difference unless they ask to see the facility’s proof. “Just make sure you look for a license,” she said, “Because you cannot have that license unless work very hard for that license.”
The Kennedy Recreation Center does not have a childcare license. It operated the program where TJ drowned in July, under Missouri’s summer camp exemption.
“It’s heartbreaking, because at the end of the day a child lost his life,” Ghiassi said.
And what if mandating licenses for all child programs means some go out of business? Coulter responded, “I’m sorry, but it gets rid of some programs. I don’t feel bad for that because here we are worried and to the grindstone, making sure these children are cared for and I think everyone should have that same accountability.”
Missouri recently broadened its childcare licensing exemption to include “day camps.” You might not have a way of knowing whether they have a license without asking to see it.
You can also check online here, where you can also view inspection records.